Iris Steinley serves Mike Linton a hotdog during the 60th Anniversary community barbecue, hosted Friday by Red Deer’s St. John Ambulance chapter. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

More medical first responders needed when Red Deer hosts Canada Winter Games

St. John Ambulance needs volunteers to help spectators in crisis

St. John Ambulance is celebrating 60 years in Red Deer by preparing to respond to the emergency needs of thousands of spectators during the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

“We’re looking for more volunteers,” said Pamela Doucette, community services co-ordinator for Red Deer’s St. John Ambulance chapter. She hopes to sign up 20 more first responders who can assist if there are emergencies in the stands after the Games start on Feb. 15.

When sports fans from across Canada arrive in Red Deer, there’s always a chance someone could have a heart attack, diabetic reaction, or fall, said Doucette. She noted the athletes will have their own medical specialists, but a team of local first responders needs to be readied to assist spectators-in-need before paramedics arrive.

Anyone interested in becoming a first responder needs to clear a criminal background check and to complete a free course through St. John Ambulance that takes about 80 hours.

While that’s a significant time commitment, it could save lives: Doucette noted volunteers from her group are always on hand in case of an emergency at local pancake breakfasts, fundraising walks and runs, dances and the Westerner Days parade.

The local organization celebrated its 60th year in Red Deer on Friday with a community barbecue that attracted a lot of neighbours along 67th Street.

Kim Laing, vice-president of public relations and business development for the St. John Alberta Council, said the non-profit contributes about $16-million worth of volunteer services annually. The Red Deer chapter, with about 50 members, makes up about a fifth of that amount.

The group traces its origins back a thousand years, to the Crusades, when Benedictine monks treated injured soldiers on the battlefield.

Laing said first-aid skills haven’t changes significantly since St. John Ambulance was established in Canada in 1884 — but access to technological equipment and training have improved vastly.

St. John programs have also grown: They now include a safety course for babysitters, a program for therapy dogs that help those in emotional trauma, and information sessions on properly installing infant and child car seats.

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